Dripping, spilling, spreading, burning. Welcome to the New World Chaos, what the Bush administration is now calls “the long war”.
The cost is mounting: over 3,700 Americans and perhaps three-quarters of a million Iraqis, as well as over 100 British and over 100 people from other countries — not to mention over 1,000 privatized “contractors”, whose outsourced jobs were formerly done by soldiers — now dead from this latest oil war, in addition to the tens of thousands (or more) with physical and mental injuries, each one a human being with a family and friends; more international ill-will and terrorism, due to U.S. aggression and arrogance, as well as a raging civil war; fewer civil rights, due to the so-called Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act; less privacy, due to domestic spying; hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps even a trillion dollars, in public tax money gone and at least $2 billion more each week; and hundreds of billions of dollars in private profits for giant corporations (ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, announced soaring profits of $36 billion for 2005, exceeding any corporation in U.S. history, based on revenues of over $1 billion per day, which include continuing subsidies from the U.S. government). In his 2006 State of the Union speech, Kingpin Bush admitted the obvious: “America is addicted to oil”. What George Bush the Lesser didn’t admit, among other things, is that the U.S. military is the world’s largest consumer of oil and the world’s largest polluter. America is also addicted to war for oil, with the Bush Administration addicted to lying, deception, secrecy. Indeed, the warmongers and war profiteers have us over a barrel. As they say, “to the victor go the oils”.
Prior to formally ordering the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003, self-declared “war president” George W. Bush (who even the Washington Post repeatedly calls the “worst president ever”) sternly warned the Iraqis: “Do not destroy the oil wells”. The war on Iraq was, reportedly, originally named Operation Iraqi Liberation, instead of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Someone quickly realized, however, that the acronym would be OIL. That wouldn’t make for good PR — not that it didn’t clearly represent their interests, but not the interests the criminal Bush gang cares to advertise. In either case, they seem to have meant liberalization of the economy instead of liberation and free markets instead of freedom.
We can suppose, therefore, that it was a concession as well as a salute to their Capitalist-in-Chief to name some of the U.S. military bases in newly-occupied Iraq after oil companies. (The 101st Airborne Division really did name a Base Exxon and a Base Shell somewhere in the deserts of Iraq!) While there are now reported to be over 100 U.S. bases in Iraq, both large and small, it appears that the long-term plans are to build and maintain four to six “permanent super-bases” — each as large as 20 square miles and as sprawling as American suburbia with its requisite multinational fast food outlets, not to mention movie theaters and golf courses — costing “several billion dollars”.
Following the recent U.S. wars in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, U.S. military bases have mushroomed in these regions, adding to the already extensive empire. With occupied Iraq slated to have the largest U.S. Embassy — staffed with more than three thousand personnel and costing $1 billion to construct — in addition to the “permanent super-bases”, those immense material and human resources should be able to adequately guard their financial interests and liquid assets.
In the first “combat operation” of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, navy Seals claimed a “bloodless victory”, according the New York Times (22 March 2003), seizing two oil terminals “in the battle for Iraq’s vast oil empire”. Tellingly, administration officials are now referring to “the long war”. The battle is fixing to be longer than a transcontinental pipeline.
Even though Commander-in-Mischief Bush declared an end to “major combat operations” on May 1, 2003, after landing under a giant banner on an aircraft carrier barely off the coast of San Diego announcing “Mission Accomplished”, and transferred so-called “sovereignty” to Iraqis on June 28, 2004, the business-oriented Bloomberg News reports that “The battle for Iraq’s oil is just beginning” (June 18, 2004). Whether speaking of insurgents, pipelines, or profits, in July 2003, bombastic Bush brashly declared: “Bring ‘em on!”
Oiloholics Bush and Cheney both have deep and dirty connections to the oil industry, not to mention former National Security Advisor and now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who actually had a Chevron oil supertanker ship named after her. Many others in the Bush gang are up to their necks — and wallets — in oil. It is not just that so many in the avaricious Bush regime have closely worked for — and with — oil companies or in the energy sector more generally. There is also the issue of the legalized system of bribery, including campaign contributions and the revolving door of jobs in business and government. Oil dollars have been gushing into Bush campaign coffers for years.
With millions of petro-dollars pouring into mostly Republican campaign war chests, and with billion-dollar subsidies and other favorable legislation and tax laws for oil companies, the slick and symbiotic relationship is powerful and sickening. Oil kingpin Bush and his gang are economically — and therefore politically and militarily — addicted to oil. They have been lusting after oil for years, as the Bush-connected Project for the New American Century has made clear since its founding in 1997, fantasizing about a “new Pearl Harbor”, which they — and, sadly, we — got on September 11th, 2001. While most mourned, some salivated.
Americans, more generally, have also become addicted to oil. The U.S. consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil supply, and about 40% of that is burned in passenger vehicles, including the tank-like Hummers, which get a measly 10 miles per gallon, and other SUVs. It’s a little harder to calculate how much a gallon of human blood costs, but the brutal regime seems to think “the price is worth it”, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once quipped about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of (civilian) Iraqis, most of whom were children. Similarly, Donald Rumsfeld remarked that “the carnage was horrendous and it [is] worth it”. Those and other costs, including pollution and global warming, possibly the most serious threat to our planet, are efficiently externalized to the rest of us, and our descendants, and indeed all life on Earth, with dire consequences.
Iraq has the third largest proven oil reserves in the world (way behind Saudi Arabia and slightly after Iran), accounting for about 10% of world supply according to Oil and Gas Journal, but with newer technology engaging in further exploration and analyses, Iraq may very well prove eventually to have quite a bit more oil (though if some of the reserves are “paper barrels”, as some countries are alleged to have, it might be less). That has made Iraq a favorite target for the “oiloholics”, as Rabbi Arthur Waskow describes them (“Oiloholics and the Burning World”, Tikkun, March/April 2003). Iran may not be far behind. In 1990, when Dick Cheney was Secretary of War for the first Bush Administration, he stated it plain: “We’re there [in the Persian Gulf region] because the fact of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil… Whoever controls the flow of Persian Gulf oil has a stranglehold not only on our economy but also on the other countries of the world as well.” Having control over oil means that it can be kept flowing to U.S. allies (especially in Europe, Japan, and Israel) and can potentially be withheld from adversaries (notably China, whose economy, oil imports, and influence are rapidly rising).
Evidence reveals that the Big Oil Bush administration actively albeit secretly thirsted for Iraqi oil “within weeks” of Bush taking office in January 2001, as Greg Palast’s investigative reporting exposes (www.gregpalast.com). The Downing Street memos, as well as subsequent evidence, further corroborate Bush and Blair’s fraudulent misleadership. Though Bush’s wars are certainly about oil, neo-con petrotheism is not just about access to oil, or even control of the “preeminent strategic commodity” of oil, what more than one presidential administration euphemistically calls “energy security” (recall the signs at anti-war rallies asking “how did our oil get under their sand?”). And this is only likely to increase as we reach — and pass — global peak oil.
War against Iraq is also about controlling the price of oil, controlling those prices in U.S. dollars instead of Euros and Yen, and controlling the flow of petro-dollars, the money made by selling oil which is then invested abroad — so as to more efficiently grease their palms and portfolios. The vicious Kuwaiti royal dictatorship, for example, reportedly makes more money from their oil-funded overseas investments, primarily in the U.S. and Britain, than they do through direct oil sales. The BBC estimated, according to media critic Ben Bagdikian, that the Saudis have about three-quarters of a trillion dollars worth of U.S. investments — in real estate, treasury bills, and the like.
Further, petro-dollars flow to the U.S., and to a lesser extent England and elsewhere, in exchange for military hardware, such as advanced fighter jets, attack helicopters, late-model tanks, assault rifles, and other offensive weapons of destruction, designed to be used against both external and internal threats to the authoritarian status quo. Petro-dollars also buy U.S. bonds, financing low interest rates in the U.S. and therefore political stability in the world’s only military superpower. Additionally, U.S. and British banks have been “recycling petro-dollars”, as Henry Kissinger described it, by over-lending to dictatorial third world governments, thereby, with the help of the IMF, gaining long-term leverage over these countries, including their
economies and resources, extending economic colonialism, national dependency, and injurious poverty (cf. John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man).
During Gulf War I, Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times essayist Thomas Friedman remarked that “the U.S. has not sent troops to the Saudi desert to preserve democratic principles… This is about money, about protecting governments loyal to America and punishing those that are not and about who will set the price of oil” (August 12, 1990). It becomes less surprising, then, that the Bushies have crudely tried to get their unguinous hands around the necks of oil-connected countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Liberia, Sudan, Angola, and others — and cozying up to brutal pro-western oilocracies — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, et al. — while virtually ignoring other (drier) locales. It is in this way that Michael Klare, author of Blood and Oil, argues that “oil and terrorism are linked”: Al Qaida and other terrorist groups arose and increased their power in reaction to the U.S. imperialism’s oily, albeit firm, embrace of authoritarian Arab governments. Of course, some of these clerical fascist groups also received military and other material support from the U.S. to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
A geography of the so-called “war on terror”, acting much like a war of terror, is essentially a geography of the world’s oil reserves, as Gopal Dayaneni and Bob Wing indicate (in their “Oil and War”, special to War Times). With the U.S. consuming about one-quarter of the world’s oil, this is no small matter. Indeed, as Daniel Yergen discusses (Washington Post, October 17, 2003), petro-power has become a key fact of the global political economy.
Reflecting on the intimate — “embedded” and “wedded” — relationship between state and corporate power, what Mussolini reportedly referred to as fascism, Friedman laid it plain in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, his intellectual love letter to corporate globalization and U.S. imperialism: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” Free markets? Not quite. The unspoken capitalist mantra has always been “free markets for thee, not for me”. In his latest book, The World Is Flat, Friedman at least concedes the possibilities of blowback — a CIA term to describe situations in which (usually covert) operations have a boomerang effect, e.g., support for Osama bin Laden, the mujahadeen, the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and other unsavories — and that U.S.-led economic globalization could as easily lead to socialist revolution as social development.
Although Secretary of Offense Rumsfeld quipped, with a perfect poker face, that the war against Iraq has “nothing to do with oil”, various other political and military leaders made much about securing Iraqi oil wells very early into the invasion. “It is no mere coincidence”, the Amnesty International Annual Report states in May 2004, “that, in the Iraq war, the protection of oil wells appears to have been given greater priority than the protection of hospitals”. This, of course, remains true. More recently, in response to Bush again denying that “we acted in Iraq because of oil” (January 10, 2006), news anchor Ted Koppel, in his New York Times essay “Will Fight for Oil” (February 26, 2006), whose title alludes to the needs of the poor and unemployed, reminds us that “the reason for America’s rapt attention to the security of the Persian Gulf is what it has always been. It’s about the oil.”
It is worthwhile to note that when asked by talk-show host Charlie Rose how the war was going on April 1, 2003, shortly after the invasion began, General Joseph W. Ralston, former Supreme Commander of NATO, didn’t hesitate, stating “We own the… oil wells.” As with corporate leveraged buyouts, Bu$hCo. seeks to pay for its war and the privatized reconstruction of Iraq using revenues from future Iraqi oil sales, originally claiming that the war “would pay for itself”, while undermining the power of OPEC through deliberate oversupply and undermining the United Nations through unilateral actions.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone — though it may disgust them — that while the U.S. military allowed Operation Iraqi Looting, especially the ransacking of the Iraqi libraries and museums which contained priceless Mesopotamian antiquities that epitomize human cultural history, it very carefully guarded the Oil and Interior ministries with heavily-armed U.S. Marines, tanks, humvees, and razor wire. Likewise, it is disturbing, but again not surprising, that the U.S.-installed leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was once associated with Unocal and made his first order of business the opening of an oil pipeline desired by the ever-thirsty Bush administration. So unpopular, President Karzai still cannot freely travel around his own country and must, at all times, be guarded by U.S. soldiers.
Documents from Bechtel and the U.S. government further evidence an obsession with Iraqi oil, and the Aqaba pipeline to carry it to Jordan, at least since Rumsfeld’s 1983 friendly meeting with Saddam Hussein, though almost certainly earlier than that. The record also shows absolutely no concern — let alone obsession — with Saddam’s disgusting use of torture, chemical weapons, or his infringements of civil and human rights. Quite the contrary. Prior to the first Gulf War, official praise for Saddam Hussein was enthusiastic, even after committing atrocities, with U.S.-produced ordnance, that were later used to “manufacture consent” and “justify” war against Iraq, apparently long-planned and much-desired at least by those steering the battleship of U.S. empire.
The U.S.-run regime in Iraq, whether a military or civilian dictatorship (almost the first thing the new Iraqi “civilian” interim president did was to declare martial law), will undoubtedly promote promiscuous privatization as a key plan — of oil, of course, but also of other “commanding heights” — i.e., transportation, communications, banking, utilities (notably water), and other prime resources and infrastructure — what Naomi Klein describes as “privatization without representation”. Iraq has effectively become a private gas station and Mid-East mini-mart for the U.S. élite.
As feminist Grace Paley says, “today’s wars are about oil. But alternative energies exist now — solar, wind, [tidal, wave, geothermal, hydrogen fuel cells, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, biomass (including hemp), methane hydrates, methane digestion, et al., not to mention significant conservation and energy efficiency through hybrid technology and other means] — for every important energy-using activity in our lives. The only human work that cannot be done without oil is war” (Ms., Spring 2003). Therefore, she concludes, “men lead us to war for enough oil to continue to go to war for oil.” While oil fuels the war, war fuels the need for more oil. This vicious, biocidic cycle is like a well-oiled imperialist machine, doing different types of damage at home and abroad, while financially benefitting pathological, parasitic, piratic and GOP-connected mega-corporations, such as Halliburton/KBR, Bechtel, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Unocal, DynCorp, Citicorp, JP Morgan Chase, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Blackwater, CACI, Fluor, Shaw, the Carlyle Group, the Alexander Group, and their greasy
“The country might be better served”, Lewis Lapham suggests, “if the[se] corporations fielded their own private armies, noting that this practice has precedent in the Italian Renaissance (“Condottieri”, Harper’s, June 2005): “Citicorp and ExxonMobil would do well to follow in the footsteps of the Medici — the military operations conceived as venture-capital deals, the soldiers promoted to the rank of shareholders and dressed in uniforms bearing the corporate insignia, the print and broadcast rights firmly under the control of the publicists, the loot divided in accordance with the rules governing the orders of battle in the National Football League.” If not better served, at least the country’s line of command would be more clear. Like our current leadership, corporations cannot be enlightened; they can only fulfill their self-serving raison d’étre, seeking and maximizing profit above all else.
In “The American Empire (Get Used to It)”, (NY Times Magazine, January 5, 2003, cover story), Michael Ignatieff states that “because [the Persian Gulf region] has so much of the world’s proven oil reserves”, it is “the empire’s center of gravity”. Ignatieff refers to this as “the burden of empire”. The following day the London Daily Mirror, also with a cover story, pictured a graphic showing a tough-looking Bush with his tough words interspersed with oil company logos. Underneath, the tag line reads: “Now can you guess why George W. Bush [was] hellbent on a war with Iraq?”
According to recent polling, over 90% of Iraqis seem to realize what an increasing number of Americans do: that the U.S. is an occupying force in Iraq, not a liberating one, with little interest in real democracy and should exit Iraq as soon as possible. Further, a recent meeting of all three major Iraqi faction , along with their Arab and Muslim neighbors, came to a consensus that the U.S. should remove its military forces from Iraq. Democracy is neither one bullet-one vote nor one barrel-one vote.
The propaganda offensive by the military-media complex in the U.S., however, has once again worked wonders, though the disinformation campaign is wearing thin and people, now including politicians and military leaders, are increasingly speaking out. Whether it’s cheap political rhetoric from Washington, D.C. or cheap corporate commodities from China, too many people are still all too ready to “buy American”, demonstrating their “patriotism” in the only ways offered. Little surprise, then, that while the U.S. government is racking up record-level budget and trade deficits, and crushing record-level public debt, Americans are over-consuming to the point of negative savings, and record-level personal debt, a scene last witnessed in 1933, during the Great Depression. Of course, corporate greed and power, a shift to impoverished Wal-Mart-style service-sector jobs, declining union strength, lower real wages and benefits, skyrocketing healthcare costs, and increasing levels of foreclosures and bankruptcy — all related — don’t help.
Yes, there is an empire and there is a burden of empire. It is not, however, that the U.S. must “reluctantly” (as Bush and other misleaders claim) be an imperial power — it has quite often rushed to the occasion, as history amply demonstrates. Unfortunately for the misfortunate millions (and billions!), it is the citizens of the world who bear the burden of empire by paying its tremendous costs, while the élite reap their tremendous profits by wielding their tremendous power.
“The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is a war not only for the maintenance of U.S. hegemony, but for the strengthening and enlarging of an Empire”, Steven Rosenthal and Junaid Ahmad declare (“The Problem is Bigger than the Bushes”, ZNet, July 1, 2004). “That is something much bigger than the corrupt war profiteering of Halliburton or the sleazy relationships between the Saudi ruling class and the Bush family. It is much bigger than the ideological fantasies of the clique of neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration.” Now, as Baghdad smoulders and survivors continue to dig themselves out, and as the insurgency is in full force, the bells of Operation Iraqi Freedom are still ringing in the ears of Iraqis like the sounds of night time air raid and now daytime ambulance sirens. And they unfortunately will for quite some time.
Investigative journalist Jim Valette, author of a report called Crude Vision, reflects on U.S. policy in Iraq: “Is this pursuit of oil or the pursuit of empire? … Right now it’s really two sides of the same coin” (CounterPunch, April 9, 2003). While it may seem that the U.S. empire is increasing its reach and strength with military victory in Iraq, it is also following in the footsteps of all other historical empires. U.S. war against Iraq may not simply be a war of (expanding) empire, but may in fact represent the imperial desperation of an (economic) empire in decline, despite its military supremacy. As Saul Landau says, “wars kill empires as well as people” (The Business of America, 2004).
Excessive military budgeting (equal to the rest of the world combined), rising deficits (contributing to a public debt of over $8.5 trillion and growing), imperial overstretch (as Paul Kennedy termed it, with as many as 1,000 U.S. military bases in over 140 countries and territories in addition to several thousand in the U.S.), the disregard and disrespect of allies and others (including France, Germany, Russia, Japan, and Mexico, in addition to the UN and international law, while enraging the “second superpower” of world opinion) and outrageous arrogance (the many offensive and deceptive words and deeds of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Bolton, Negroponte, Rove, et al., duly reported by the corporate mass media stenographers) all lead to an unsustainable system of oppression and obfuscation that frays from the edges inward and rots from the top down, as all empires eventually do.
Further, the revelations of torture and humiliation at Abu Ghraib in U.S.-occupied Iraq, Bagram in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay in U.S.-occupied Cuba, and other prisons, whether secret CIA ones or not, by U.S. soldiers and so-called “private” contractors — aside from the “extraordinary rendition” (read: kidnapping) of “ghost detaineees” transported to locales (Egypt and Syria, for example, as well as what had been described as “black sites”) where torture is less taboo — is a phenomenon typical of empires and considerably inflames this
increasingly explosive “theater of operations”. It is further shameful and inflammatory that the U.S. has flattened, crushed, damaged, and destroyed many ancient Babylonian archeological sites in this “cradle of civilization”, which forms our collective cultural heritage and is, in many cases, being lost forever.
Professor and social critic Cornel West, speaking of the necessity of “Finding Hope in Dark Times” (Tikkun, July/August 2004), begins by saying that
We are living in one of the most frightening and terrifying moments in history. In this age of the American Empire, imperial policies and imperial mentalities are becoming pervasive in a variety of different forms. America has become a superpower, a hegemon, a leviathan, a colossus, with no competing or contesting power. Becoming an empire is always dangerous because every empire in history … has been filled with hubris, arrogance, and nihilism. Every empire we know of in human history has succumbed to the idolatry of power.
West concludes that we need to speak truthfully, act courageously and democratically, pursue justice, be loving—in short, we need to create communities of resistance. We must be that “second superpower”, as a front page New York Times news analysis described the millions of anti-war protesters who rallied around the world (Patrick Tyler, “A New Power in the Streets”, New York Times, February 17, 2003), many of whom accurately predicted the sorry state of affairs we’ve been thrust into. We are left with the choice between U.S. hegemony or global survival, as Noam Chomsky indicates (in Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance and elsewhere), true for generations but with much higher profits and deadlier stakes now. One path of survival has been neatly laid out by George McGovern and William Polk (Out of Iraq), which detail a how a small fraction of the enormous amount being spent on the war could instead go towards securing and rebuilding Iraq, with substantial benefits for all sides.
Much is the same in this imperialist “game” (as one military leader called it) of conquest — old oil in new barrels, so to speak — though a tragic line has been crossed by the U.S.: first-strike unilateralism — with mass manipulation and mass media warnography, mass murder, mass public expense, mass privatization and private profits, mass ecocide, mass terror, and mass destruction — including the U.S. use of weapons of mass destruction, such as depleted ranium (with a half life equivalent to the age of the Earth!), white phosphorus (used in the siege of Fallujah, the presumed site where the Babylonian Talmud was written), napalm/MK-77, cluster bombs, Daisy Cutters, and other massive bombs containing chemical slurries. The Bush regime also threatens to use nuclear weapons — especially against China, Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Russia, and Syria, according to the U.S. government in 2002 — while continuing to research, build, and modernize nuclear weapons, including so-called “low-yield”, “tactical”, “bunker-busting”, or “mini” nukes. The consequences of acting in these ways will reverberate in very painful ways, as history will undoubtedly demonstrate, unless something is quickly done to reverse this horrific trend.
We have already traded way too much blood for oil — sacrificing the young for a greedy gambit and risking life on Earth for a short-term power grab — while Bush and his capitalist cronies extend U.S. empire, enrich themselves, bust the budget, increase fear and mistrust, reduce social services, suppress civil liberties, and undermine national and indeed global security by further destabilizing volatile regions and increasing the threats of terrorism—both against and from the U.S. Oil wars should remind us that the empire — as well as the emperor — has no clothes.
The impeachment of Bush and Cheney would be a good start, but they — and others in their criminal gang — should be in prison. More importantly, we need to impeach the system that puts profits ahead of people, fossil fuels over sustainability, corporations above citizens, and prioritizes war over education, healthcare, jobs, housing, mass transportation, protection of the environment, and social security.
In the seventeenth century, the famous Japanese Zen poet Basho wrote a time-honored haiku:
all that remains of great soldiers’
Public health advocate Susan Clarke, though, adds:
Not even grasses remain
when toxic war waste undermines
their very nature
The war will end. U.S. troops will return home. The empire is running on fumes and will eventually stall out. The only questions are: How many more people will have to die before that happens? How many more billions of dollars will have to be wasted?
Dripping, spilling, spreading, burning. At least the Bushies will get their oil fix. They — and we — need to kick the habit. No one fights over the sun and the wind.